pdf_button We have had a number of top-level managers complain to us recently that their direct reports were expecting them to manage their careers. This highlights an interesting conundrum about managing your career in the early 21st century – who’s responsibility is it?

Up until the 1990s employees would have had a belief that their manger was heavily involved in developing their career progression; or maybe an internal mentor. In the last couple of decades this consensus no longer holds and there is quite a large variation in models of career development in the organisations we come across.

In the main, we find a great many companies believe career management has simply become an individual responsibility for each employee. We still hear plenty of stories of mentors taking an active role, HR offering career management programs and the person’s direct manager taking a leading role in guiding and shaping careers. But, understandably, the primary belief is each individual should be in the driving seat of their career.

The point is, there are many different models out there and each manager makes their own decision about what level of interest and support they offer in regards to developing your skills and career. For example, in a recent conversation the manager of a person we are coaching told us bluntly that he hasn’t got the time to worry about anyone’s career other than his own, and that was hard enough. This is not an isolated opinion.

Then again, in another organisation the CEO of a General Manager we are coaching is taking a very active interest in this person’s career and has been doing so for the last 8 years. Another reason why mangers have
become less involved in their team members’ career development is that career paths are getting more muddled and complex. We have evolved from a professional world that was more linear to one where we have to deal
constantly with:

  • Permanent restructuring
  • Shifting & flattening hierarchies
  • Increased offshoring
  • Greater job insecurity

Career design is a more complex problem that needs proactive attention. What is clear today is that if you aim to take control of your career you will have a better chance of getting support from your manager or a mentor. This means you need to have clarity about where you want to drive your career to and what you might need to get there.

So how do you go about it? Well, if you are not one of the minority of people who seem to know exactly where they want to get to, you can still drive a number of factors that influence how much you enjoy your job:

  1. Status/Recognition
  2. Autonomy
  3. Meaningful Work
  4. Continued Learning

You will not value these four factors equally, so rank them in the order that makes most sense to you. Using this ranked list you can start having conversations with your manager, and other people in your organisation, about where the opportunities you are looking for might be.

The fact is, most managers still believe that subordinates primarily look for opportunities to move up the hierarchy. This shapes their assumptions about how to best assist you (or not to assist you, as the case may be). It will be up to you to get your real career priorities across.

The key thing is that if you really want something then your manager expects you to ask for it. If you don’t ask for it fewer-and-fewer managers are likely to serve it up on a platter for you or barrack on your behalf. So in a era where we are seeing junior, middle and senior people taking few risks about their career and not discussing the future opportunities they are looking for, in parallel their managers are becoming less proactively involved in developing their team for the next career move.

Many of the people we coach have reached a ceiling in their career progression in terms of seniority within a hierarchy. That doesn’t mean they want to stop having new experiences. Sometimes the work they are doing has become too routine for them, even though it might seem complex and interesting from the outside, so the enjoyment has gone out of it. That’s when you need to look for a sideways move or a special project to potentially learn something new and to open up new possibilities for your future.

At other times individuals we come across simply don’t feel they are doing anything meaningful, anything that aligns with their values and what they care about. Not everyone has the means to just quit their job and move to Indonesia to save the orangutans. Yet that doesn’t mean that there are no other options out there that allow you to get closer to what you consider meaningful. A lady we coached became the CEO of a small, but well-funded, charity that works in the field she cares about the most. That’s not a job that comes up very often, but she was fully prepared for the opportunity when it arose, having volunteered extensively in the sector previously.

Most organisations are prepared to support individuals to further their career and development through training, secondments, coaching and other ways of increasing exposure to new opportunities. You just have to ask and make a case for why this is valuable not just for you, but for the organisation as well. That value to the organisation might simply be that they get to keep you, or that you become more motivated and productive again.

In terms of gaining status and recognition, of course organisations are perfectly set up to offer the spoils to those who seek it. What organisation generally loath to offer is more autonomy. Just take the issue of working from home. Countless studies have demonstrated that people who work from home are more productive and produce higher quality output (because there are less distractions). Has that helped the case of people wanting to work from home? Absolutely not.

So if you are looking for more autonomy, you either have to start your own business or you have to get creative within the context of what your job and organisation will permit. By demonstrating competence in your role, keeping your manager informed at all times, always coming with solutions when you present problems and involving them in conflict only as a last resort, after you have tried every other avenue, you can go a long way towards neutralising any fear or anxiety they might harbour about leaving you to your own devices.

We believe that it will become increasingly more important for individuals to manage all aspects of their career – progression, learning, meaning, recognition and autonomy. Managers are getting more time poor so involving them in caring about your career means getting their attention and asking for what you want or need. Repeatedly. In addition you should be on the look out for opportunities to receive career coaching or mentoring, especially if your manager is never going to be a champion for your cause.